HANFORD – The planned high-speed rail route through Kings County will force the Kings County Fire Department to relocate the key Houston Avenue fire station, according to county officials.
A study commissioned by county officials that was made public Tuesday says the California High-Speed Rail Authority's plan to send Houston Avenue either over or under the rail alignment will cause access issues for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles needing to access Houston from the station.
The report says the impacts would slow response times for medical and fire calls.
The report also says that noise problems from high-speed construction activity and trains would interfere with the fire training center that is located next to the station.
The report goes on to state that the alignment will cause road closures that will slow emergency response times in other parts of the county.
The Houston station serves county islands in the Hanford/Lemoore area and also supports the Hanford Fire Department on calls within city limits.
"Based on the cumulative issues, both Fire Station 4 and the training facility should be relocated," the report states.
The rail alignment is immediately east of the county-owned property.
"The project, the way it's designed, they really can't mitigate the problems they're causing, so it's a complete [property] take," said Kings County Counsel Colleen Carlson.
Carlson said the cost to move the station and mitigate other impacts is expected to top $5 million. County officials are asking the rail authority to pick up the tab.
"The Authority has been working collaboratively with the Kings County Fire Department on various proposed design options for an underpass or overpass at Houston Avenue, with the intent of minimizing impacts to the fire department’s response times," said rail spokeswoman Toni Tinoco in a written statement. "The Authority is continuing to discuss these options with the fire department."
County officials plan to move the fire station farther west, closer to the Highway 43/Houston Avenue intersection.
Kings County Fire Chief Clay Smith called it a "package deal."
Smith was referring to all the facilities that are concentrated in and around Fire Station 4. Those include a helipad for medical emergencies.
Smith is anticipating that new access roads will have to be built for the helipad.
He also said the county is planning to build a garage at the Armona fire station to house the 100-foot ladder truck currently housed at Station 4.
Carlson said county officials commissioned the study so they could bring the results to rail officials.
The county has retained a law firm, Bay Area-based Herman Fitzgerald LLC, to provide advice throughout negotiations between county officials and the rail authority.
The county's contract with Herman Fitzgerald covers everything up to and including a possible court trial against the rail authority.
"We haven't gotten to that point," Carlson said. "Hopefully, that will be avoided."
Carlson said the ideal scenario is to have the new station up and running before major high-speed rail construction starts in the area.
Rail officials haven't provided a timetable as to when that might happen.
Smith said the fire station complex on Houston Avenue is "very important to the county." He said it serves the new Costco shopping center.
"We assist the city of Hanford with the Costco area and any additional facilities that may go in there," he said.